After a disappointing season, the Los Angeles Lakers are looking for a head coach. The job can be one of the best, being in the world’s entertainment capital, but it also comes with high expectations, and if those are not met, you don’t last long.
Since 1980, the Lakers have had 16 different head coaches, and 12 started a new season. Many of the coaches were short-lived or interim coaches, but it is still a massive amount of overhaul.
It’s hard to argue that being the Lakers head coach can be a volatile position, and as the front office looks for its next, um, victim, let’s take a look at the last 11 coaches who have started off the season since 1980.
Rudy Tomjanovich did start the 2004-05 season as the head coach but is left off the list because he coached 43 games, retiring due to health issues.
Tier 3 | Short-Lived, with Little Success
- 11. Byron Scott, 2014-16, 30-126 (.232)
A three-time NBA Champion with the Lakers, Byron Scott, starts off our list from the bottom. Scott was the fourth overall pick in the 1983 draft by the San Diego Clippers. He would be traded to the Lakers and play with them for 11 seasons, winning his rings within the first five seasons.
As a coach, he did not fare as well as a player. Out of all 12 coaches, he has the lowest winning percentage at 23% in his two full seasons as the head coach.
His teams were filled with young players and overpaid veterans who had been long past their prime. Sadly he coached the last two seasons of Kobe Byrant’s season, with the highlight of his tenure being Bryant’s final game masterclass.
- 10. Luke Walton, 2016-19, 98-148 (.398)
Luke Walton was head coach after Scott, and his success was about the sames. In the previous season, Walton was the interim head coach of the Golden State Warriors, with a 39-4 record. His coaching performance during that time would be a significant factor in getting the job with the Lakers.
However, the 2016-17 Lakers roster did not look like the Warriors roster. It was young, as the Lakers had officially gone into a complete rebuild after Byrant’s retirement. He would try to make a playoff push the following season, trading young talent for veterans. But the team was too young and not good enough to make the push.
The highlight would come in his third and final season, when LeBron James would take his talents to Hollywood, with Walton coaching that first season, and then let go right after.
- 9. Randy Pfund, 1992-94, 66-80 (.452)
Randy Pfund would spend his whole coaching career with the Lakers organization, starting as an assistant in 1985. He would be fired after 64 games in the 1994 season and would not coach in the NBA again.
In his first season as head coach, the Lakers would slip into the playoffs as the eighth seed, only to face the eventual Western Conference Champions, the Phoenix Suns. After winning the first two games, the Lakers would lose the next three, falling in a five-game series.
The following season would be a dropoff, as the Lakers were 27-37 when Pfund was fired.
- 8. Mike D’Antoni, 2012-14, 67-87 (.435)
Mike D’Antoni’s tenure with the Lakers was confusing and dysfunctional. Even though he wouldn’t start the 2012-13 season on the bench, he might as well have.
He would take over 10 games into the season and go 40-32. That year would be one of the most hyped teams in recent NBA history, featuring Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and Pau Gasol. However, Bryant and Howard would not get along, while Nash would spend most of the season injured.
Byrant tore his Achilles near the end of the season, starting the end of his career and the Lakers’ chances in the playoffs. They were swept in round one.
The following season would only worsen with Byrant only playing six games. The team would go 27-55 in D’Antoni’s first entire season, leading to a swift end to his time with the Lakers.
- 7. Mike Brown 2011-12 42-29 (.592)
Mike Brown could only coach one entire season with the Lakers, as he would be fired five games into the 2012-13 season.
Brown would be the first coach on this list to win a playoff game and win a seven-game series, defeating the Denver Nuggets in seven in the first round. He would benefit from coaching a team that was two seasons removed from winning an NBA Finals.
The firing of Brown would come as a surprise after one season, which did see some success. With a more star-studded roster, the Lakers front office wanted a more high-profile coach, hiring D’Antoni shortly after Brown’s firing.
Tier 2 | Success with No Security
- 6. Del Harris, 1994-99 224-116 (.659)
On this list, Del Harris has the third-longest tenure with the Lakers, spanning five seasons. In that time, the deepest he went into the NBA playoffs was the Western Conference Finals.
He would make it out of the first round in four of his five seasons and make the playoffs every season. He was consistently good, but the issue was that he could not take the team to an NBA Championship.
In the offseason after his second, the Lakers traded for Byrant on draft night and signed Shaquille O’Neal in free agency. Soon it was clear how good the team could be, and the Lakers decided it was not going to be Harris to take them to the promised land.
- 5. Mike Dunleavy, 1990-92, 101- 63 (.616)
Mike Dunleavy’s first season with the Lakers was great. The team went 58-24 on its way to the NBA Finals. Sadly he would run into Michael Jordan in his first Finals appearance, and Jordan would not be held back from his first NBA Championship.
The following season, Magic Johnson would retire abruptly after being diagnosed with HIV, which would turn the season on its head. The Lakers would still make the playoffs but would be bounced in the first round.
After two seasons with the Lakers, Dunleavy would pack his bags and head to Milwaukee to coach the Bucks on a massive contract.
- 4. Paul Westhead, 1979-82, 112-50 (.691)
Paul Westhead was not hired to be the head coach of the 1979-80 season, but after Jack McKinney had a bike accident, it became Westhead’s team. He would coach 68 games, but would win the NBA Finals in that season.
The team featured rookie Magic Johnson and NBA All-Time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It seemed like they were beginning their dynasty, which they did, not with Westhead at the helm.
In his second season, the Lakers would go 54-28 but suffer a first-round defeat, and then after 11 games the following season, Westhead would be out of the job.
- 3. Frank Vogel, 2019-22, 127-98 (.564)
This season may not live fondly in Lakers fans’ memories, but Frank Vogel is not solely to blame for this season’s collapse. Vogel’s tenure started rocky, primarily when it was pretty well known that he was not LeBron James’, or the Lakers front office, first choice to coach the team.
However, the Lakers would trade for Anthony Davis in his first season, pairing him up with James, ultimately winning an NBA Championship during the COVID-19 NBA Bubble. After winning a title, the Lakers would not offer him an extension, making the situation more complex than it should have been.
The following two seasons would be plagued by injuries to James and Davis, leading to a first-round exit in 2021 and not making the playoffs in 2022. That would see the end to Vogel’s career with the Lakers.
Tier 1 | NBA Coaching Royalty
- 2. Pat Riley, 1981-1990, 533-194 (.733)
Pat Riley would be an assistant under Westhead, and after he was fired, Riley was the straightforward successor. That would start an incredible coaching career in which he coached 282 playoff games, 149 with the Lakers.
In seven of his nine years of coaching the Lakers went to the NBA Finals, winning four championships. The two seasons they did not make it to the NBA Finals, they lost in the Western Conference Finals. He coached some of the best teams in NBA history, built around Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy.
Riley has the second-most coached games and wins in franchise history, putting him in elite company.
- 1. Phil Jackson, 1999-2004 2005-11, 610-292 (.676)
Phil Jackson is one of the best NBA head coaches, as he has won 11 NBA championships, five coming in two different stints with the Lakers. He holds the franchise record for both games coached and wins.
His first stint with the Lakers would last five seasons, winning a three-peat, and going to four NBA Finals. Those teams would be led by O’Neal and Byrant and would be one of the most devastating duos in NBA history.
He would take a season off, to come back to a different team without O’Neal, but led by Byrant. Bryant would have the team solely built around him, which would lead to Jackon’s final two rings in back to back seasons, going to three consecutive NBA Finals.